City’s plans to engage White Street residents in embryonic stage

by Jordan Green

With the Greensboro City Council united around a plan to hire a consultant to evaluate several proposals by private companies to handle the city’s solid waste, some residents of the White Street area are wondering when and how the city will engage them.

Several of the proposals involve reopening the White Street Landfill to municipal solid waste. Most would use traditional landfilling techniques while some would utilize alternative technologies such as plasma gasification and pyrolysis.

“We’ve fought that battle and we don’t want the landfill opened to solid waste,” said Bob Davis, who is the interim chair of Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro, a sociology professor at NC A&T University and host of “The Bottom Line” on WNAA 90.1 FM. “Given that the city has put out the request for proposals and we have nine of them, we are in a process of vetting each one. The executive committee will invite representatives of each of the companies to come and make a presentation so that we will be in a position to determine which one is presenting a plan that can be considered.”

Davis indicated that while residents harbor skepticism about any proposal to reopen the landfill, they are somewhat more willing to consider options such as two floated by Ulturnagen and Cico LLC to use alternative technologies.

“With the technological plan, at least they are talking about a way to dispose of the solid waste in a way that you don’t have the smell and the insects,” he said.

Another community leader suggest that local residents might consider reopening the landfill if the city makes a proactive effort to include residents in planning and private vendors commit to making improvements in the surrounding area.

“For years, [the city] operated that landfill and they didn’t give the community anything, and in fact let the community go downhill,” said Melvin DuBose, a member of the Penrose Estates community. “Now, we as a community would be remiss if we didn’t say, ‘Look, this is what you need to do as the city government and as a private company for this community.”

DuBose said any private company that comes in to operate the landfill for a profit should commit to plowing $3 million a year back into the community. He suggested that could be done through the city’s housing and community development department. Some of the vendors have pledged much smaller amounts to economic development through nonprofits or community funds.

“We would be remiss to sit here and listen to all this money floating around and not have new sidewalks,” DuBose said.

District 2 Councilman Jim Kee, himself a former co-chair of Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro, echoed Davis’ sentiments.

“They’re still of the mindset that they don’t want the landfill opened to household waste, but they’re open to looking at technology that would be beneficial to District 2 and for Greensboro,” Kee said of his constituents, adding, “If it’s not environmentally safe they don’t want to entertain it.”

Kee emphasized that just because the city is reviewing proposals doesn’t mean that it’s a foregone conclusion that the landfill will be reopened.

“This is something that was inherited from a previous council member, so we have to look at it,” he said. “So now we’re going to take a look at it and make the best decision for the city in general and the people who live around it in particular.”

‘For years, [the city] operated that landfill and they didn’t give the community anything, and in fact let the community go downhill… Now, we as a community would be remiss if we didn’t say, ‘Look, this is what you need to do as the city government and as a private company for this community.’ — Melvin DuBose

Kee has convened a public safety and environmental safety board comprised of District 2 residents in fulfillment of a campaign promise. He said the members will keep his apprised of the community’s wishes as it concerns the handling of solid waste and the possible reopening of the landfill. Members include Davis; the councilman’s predecessor, Goldie Wells; Ralph Johnson, former chair of Concerned Citizens and a candidate for NC House; Roger Pitney of the East Cone Boulevard Merchants Association; and George Durham of the East Market Street Merchants Association.

The city has begun to engage residents who live in the White Street area through its human relations commission. Chairwoman Maxine Bakeman attended the most recent meeting of the Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro.

City Manager Rashad Young said he has asked the human relations commission to facilitate some dialogue among residents about the landfill. That process is still in the preliminary stage, he said.

“We’re not going in there and we don’t want to raise the expectations that we’re having this conversation so that we can decide what to do,” Young said. “Everybody’s input is informing the decision-making process, whether it’s the folks that live over there or the people that want us to be judicious about the city’s resources. We are trying to engage in a constructive way with the community to deal with their questions about the landfill. This is greater than if the landfill is reopened. This is about the construction debris that is currently dumped there. This is about the closure costs and impacts. This is about the health issues. This conversation began prior to these RFPs being received. This isn’t a referendum on should it stay closed or should it reopen.”